A local artist who received a grant through the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture, and History and the National Endowment for the Arts is working to create unique portrait keepsakes for Buckhannon-Upshur High School students. Levi Bender said he will be completing these portraits on different canvasses such as wrestling mats, old scores of music and other items relevant to the student’s achievements. / Photo courtesy Levi Bender

Local artist creating unique B-UHS senior portraits — but you won’t see him using paper or canvass

BUCKHANNON – My Buckhannon wants to ‘draw’ your attention to a project taken on by an individual that is an Upshur County artist, Buckhannon-Upshur High School graduate, a current STEAM instructor and coach.

Levi Bender, who teaches STEAM (science, technology engineering, arts and mathematics) at Rock Cave Elementary School, also coaches wrestling and softball. And now, he’s working to celebrate the long journey of Buckhannon-Upshur High School seniors through these difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic by offering to craft free portraits on a variety of canvas formats.

Bender said he attended a grant workshop in Buckhannon, got the idea and subsequently received some financial assistance from the West Virginia Department of the Arts, Culture, and History and the National Endowment for the Arts, with approval from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.

“I was lucky enough to sit in on a grant caravan in Buckhannon this summer,” Bender said. “They were talking about their COVID-19 relief money and how they wanted to use it to support communities through art.”

Bender said that gave him the idea because he has been working on his style of art – which is portraits – for more than five years.

“This is something I have wanted to do for a while,” he said. “I have been able to do about 50 senior portraits throughout the state and the country. This seemed like a great opportunity to be able to give back to my community and give back to the students I have been able to coach and work with in the high school because their high school experience has been different in recent years.”

He said he enjoys volunteering his time as well and helps with Upshur County Little League and softball.

“I am here and there with youth wrestling as well,” Bender said.

He also has an art business called Bender’s Artworks through which he creates portraits and other kinds of unique artwork focusing on sports and music.

“Very rarely do I use a traditional canvass or paper,” Bender explained. “Most of the time, I am tearing apart athletic material – baseball covers and football leather – and painting on that.”

Bender said he considers art a vital part of learning.

“Art kind of gets pushed to the side a little bit because it is an acquired taste for some, and it should not be,” Bender shared. “Art and design are everywhere, and art is an easy transition between self-expression and literature and the sciences. To me, Leonardo Da Vinci is the pinnacle of that conjunction of science, math, art and design and how it all comes together. He is one of the larger artists who represents that connection along with others including M.C. Escher with his impossible drawings and stairs leading to nowhere.”

“There are all kinds of art [pieces] out there that combine the idea of math or the idea of science and optical illusions,” Bender added. “It is an easy transition to be a cross-curricular tool.”

Bender said the goal of the portrait program is to highlight students who have represented the Upshur County community and B-UHS with pride, humility and character by participating in extra-curricular activities such as band, athletics and clubs. Because of the funding he received, the portraits are completely free of charge.

“All that is needed is an image or two and an idea of what they would like as a canvas,” he said. “Images can be emailed to bendersartworks@gmail.com. Portraits will be completed in pen and ink, black and white mixed media creations.”

Bender can be contacted through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@bendersartworks) or by email. He reminds those sending photos that they should be the highest quality photo possible.

“We want to get this rolling for as many students as we can,” Bender said.

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